Men's Basketball Defeats North Florida
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - - Belmont men's basketball dug deep and gutted out a hard-earned 69-67 victory at North Florida Saturday night.
Despite winning nine of the previous 10 meetings in the series, the game proved eeriely reminiscent of a nightmarish two-point setback at the Ospreys one year ago.
The Bruins asserted themselves early, with two free throws from junior Mick Hedgepeth (Crossville, Ala.) capping a 6-0 start. A Matt Sauey 17-footer snapped a 3:43 Osprey scoring drought to open the game.
In all honesty, both teams struggled with offensive efficiency and ball security amidst pressure defense and mysteriously slippery court conditions. A Hedgepeth basket ended a brief Bruin cold spell and put Belmont back on top 8-7 with 11:55 left in the half.
Five quick points from sophomore Ian Clark (Memphis, Tenn.) pushed the lead to 13-9 and prompted a North Florida timeout.
The Bruins were poised to build a measurable lead, but fouls and turnovers mounted.
Nonetheless, a three-pointer from freshman J.J. Mann (Smyrna, Ga.) and two Campbell free throws stretched the lead to eight, 28-20, with 1:10 left in the half.
But an ultra-deep Smith three-pointer and three Smith free throws - after Campbell was whistled for a foul in Smith's act of shooting - trimmed the margin to 28-26 at halftime.
Belmont shot 44 percent (8-for-18) from the field in the opening 20 minutes - including 3-for-8 from three-point distance. But an uncharacteristic 13 turnovers hurt the cause.
Hedgepeth provided a strong conventional three-point play to open the second half, as the Bruin lead grew to five. But more Bruin turnovers and long rebounds triggered North Florida open court opportunities.
Four Brad Haugabrook layins in the first four minutes of the second half lifted the Ospreys to a 46-39 lead with 13:36 left.
After one free throw from junior Scott Saunders (New Orleans, La.) and another House layin, North Florida answered back.
Five more points from Smith and a Haugabrook fast break basket gave North Florida a 55-44 lead with 9:05 remaining.
Hedgepeth and sophomore Kerron Johnson (Huntsville, Ala.) would stem the tide momentarily, before a Haugabrook short jumper and a Sauey layin pushed the Osprey lead back to 11, 59-48, with 6:31 left.
With the partisan home crowd abuzz and the Bruins in desperate need of an offensive boost, Campbell took charge.
A wing three-pointer from Campbell trimmed the margin to eight with 6:00 minutes left and ignited one of the best Bruin runs in recent memory.
Johnson followed with a steal and determined conventional three-point play at the rim to get the Bruins within 59-54 with 5:21 left.
Saunders then blocked Andres Diaz on the doorstep, leading to a gorgeous baseline drive from Campbell to get Belmont within 59-56.
The run continued with a Jerron Granberry missed jumpshot and a strong House rebound, leading to another Campbell three-pointer to tie the score at 59 with 4:28 to go.
But the Bruins were not through. After two missed free throws from Diaz, Clark sank a running bank shot to put Belmont ahead, 61-59, with 3:59 left.
Smith would then be called for a traveling violation near midcourt against stern Bruin pressure defense.
Campbell poetically punctuated Belmont's run of 15 unanswered points with a backdoor layin off a deft Clark feed.
Smith ended the North Florida cold spell with two free throws, to get the hosts within 63-61 with 2:25 left.
But again Campbell rang the bell, drilling another a deep three-pointer to stretch the lead to 66-61 with 2:01 to go.
After a Haugabrook turnover, Belmont used the shot clock and turned to Clark, who feathered home a teardrop to give the Bruins a 68-61 edge with 1:23 left.
All told, Belmont went on a 20-2 run after trailing 59-48.
But just when the Bruin bench and support section thought the comeback was ensured, North Florida had different ideas.
Following a Smith missed three-pointer, Diaz would score on the offensive glass to cut the margin to five. Clark, in fact, would be called for his fifth personal foul on the play, sending Belmont's leading scorer to the sidelines.
Diaz's attempt to complete the three-point play rimmed off, but Hedgepeth and David Jeune battled for the rebound and a jump ball was called. North Florida earned possession on the arrow.
The crazy sequence continued as Granberry made a contested three-pointer in front of the Osprey bench to get North Florida within 68-66 with 51 seconds remaining.
After a timeout, Belmont used the shot clock, with Johnson passing to Hanlen. Hanlen's 10-footer would rim out, but House skied for an enormous offensive rebound. He would be fouled by Sauey with 16 seconds left.
As the Ospreys' ninth team foul of the half, House was awarded one-and-one free throws. His first free throw attempt was long, and North Florida grabbed the rebound.
With a chance to tie with a two-point basket or take the lead with a three-pointer, Haugabrook raced the ball into the frontcourt.
Belmont hounded Haugabrook and denied wing passes to Smith and Granberry. With time winding down, Haugabrook passed to Sauey in the deep corner.
Sauey then took two dribbles back towards the three-point line, stopped short, and took an off-balance 18-footer. The ball rimmed off as the horn sounded - and for a moment - the Bruins thought they had won the game.
But officials had whistled Campbell for a foul on Sauey's shot attempt, giving the Ospreys one final chance.
In fact, officials went to the scorer's table and reviewed the instant replay monitor for a few moments to determine the appropriate amount of time - if any - remaining in regulation.
1.8 seconds were put back on the clock.
Sauey proceeded to make the first of two free throws to make the score 68-67.
Belmont head coach Rick Byrd then called timeout; in part to discuss strategy and rebounding assignments with his team, but also perhaps to break the shooting rhythm of Sauey at the free throw line.
Following the timeout, Sauey's second free throw attempt to tie the game hit off the back rim and came off. Saunders grabbed the rebound and was fouled by Jimmy Williams with 1.2 seconds left.
Saunders made the first free throw to give Belmont a 69-67 lead. Then as instructed, Saunders intentionally missed the second free throw.
North Florida did not get an 80-foot desperation heave off before the final horn sounded.
All told, Belmont shot 49 percent (23-for-47) from the field - including 8-for-20 from three-point distance. Belmont outrebounded North Florida, 38-32.
Campbell led three Bruins in double figures with 21 points and six rebounds. Hedgepeth had 12 points and six rebounds. Clark added 10 points and six assists.
House and Saunders each grabbed eight rebounds.
Smith led North Florida (9-15, 6-7 Atlantic Sun) with 30 points.
Belmont (22-4, 14-1 Atlantic Sun) returns to action Saturday, Feb. 12 at Campbell. Tip-off is set for 2:15pm CT.
The live play-by-play of Voice of the Bruins Kevin Ingram can be heard on the Bruin Sports Network. Live video streaming will be provided via ASun.TV.